Microglia: The Coolest Team (of Cells) in the ACC (Not the Atlantic Coast Conference)

What’s up readers! It’s officially the halfway point of my time in the BSURF program, but it feels like it just started. My research is progressing quickly and I have a lot of exciting data to share next time I give an update on my project. However, for this week’s blog post, I will reflect on a fellow BSURFer’s Chalk Talk. Over the past week each of us spoke for 8 minutes about our projects in the lab using just the whiteboard and words to paint the picture of our research. I found myself curious throughout Kat’s talk, which was titled “Development, Microglia, and the ACC.” Kat works in the Bilbo Lab which studies neuron development in the brain with a focus on microglia. According to Kat’s Chalk Talk, microglia make up around 15% of the cells in the brain. They are critical to immune function in the brain, and their misregulation can lead to a variety of mental diseases. The Bilbo Lab has contextualized their research around Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), and they study the possible environmental factors that influence microglia development and contribute to Autism. A conclusion has been made in the field that genes alone cannot alone cause Autism, so it is extremely likely that environmental factors have a significant impact on a child’s likeliness to develop ASD. These factors can include heavy metals, chemicals, and pollution. Kat’s project focuses on the impact of pollution, which they simulate by exposing mice to diesel fuel. Kat’s project is to create a developmental timeline of microglia development in the Anterior Cingulate Cortex (ACC) in wild-type mice and mice exposed to diesel. She hypothesizes that the mice exposed to diesel will experience earlier neuronal synapse development than wild-type mice, but after the standard pruning process, fewer overall synapses will remain. The backbone of this hypothesis is that microglia moderate the timeline of synapse formation. Kat has begun creating this timeline of development by imaging slices of mouse brains under a high powered fluorescent microscope, counting the synapses seen, and plotting them on charts. She even mentioned that the images she creates are 3-dimensional, so I can’t wait to see them! This work seems very relevant to the modern world, where rates of ASD diagnosis are growing. I am so excited to see the final results of her project and see whether her hypothesis is true. Her talk was insightful and engaging, with plenty of drawings of microglia and depictions of charts. I enjoyed listening to her Chalk Talk!

Next week I will share a Day In The Life of my time in the lab. I’ll get to share some of the experiments I conduct on a weekly basis and show all you readers how I have been spending my summer! See ya then!

-Brennan

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